Local veteran reacts to Afghan fall, urges importance of mental health

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(ABC 6 News) – Right or wrong, the U.S. war in Afghanistan is over but the battle goes on in the minds of our veterans.

Confusion, anger, and frustration for many over how fast the Taliban is taking over the country after 20 years of war. Clips of panicked citizens caught in the middle are haunting many of those who served.

"I try not to think about it too much," veteran Lee Kulas said.

Kulas said a big part is because he doesn’t know what to think. He was stationed at the Parwan Detention Facility nearby Kabul in 2012 as a military police soldier.

"It’s just really sad that it happened so quickly," Kulas said.

Videos of calamity are too much to process. He’s trying not to think about this but he is talking about it.

"If something is on my mind, I have to talk about it. I can’t just sit there and stew about it," Kulas said.

It’s the only way he can make sense of the pain.

What’s more painful perhaps is the thought of the civilians, American embassy workers, Afghan translators, and other allies who are left behind.

Rayce Hardy, a government and economics instructor, said he hopes the progress the U.S. is making to get people out will be enough.

"It’s no way balancing out the negativity and the life-threatening situation here but we’re proving that when forced with it, we can move civilians, so we need to continue that," Hardy said.

Hardy said while he understands why some veterans may not feel their time there was not worth it given the last few weeks, he said the Afghans fearing for their lives now had far less to fear beforehand while the U.S. was present.

"What they did was an honorable service," Hardy said.

But while it’s easy to give up, other veterans who’ve served in previous wars said struggling veterans whos served in Afghanistan don’t have to go through this alone.

"We’ll help you, we’ll help you get into the right spots to talk to somebody. If you just need to talk, we’ll be there to talk," Troy Westphal said, a U.S. Navy and Army veteran.

Westphal said a local resource includes support from the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, which he is a member of.

But the support can be found from just about anyone at the American Legion in Rochester.

"We are behind you. You did a job for us and for them. So when you come home, just know that we’re there for you," said Sharon Blomberg, neighbor.

Kulas said sometimes a soldier’s enemy can be their mind. He’s hoping struggling veterans can open up before it’s too late.

"That’s a battle that you can’t lose," Kulas said. "It’s not something you can bottle up."

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is offering multiple resources, but help is also available from the community.

What happens halfway around the world affects everyone but some more than others.